Saturday, October 30, 2010

Playing with Trains

A few weeks ago I accompanied Debra to a conference in Los Angeles. On the last Sunday I found myself at loose ends in the morning. Sitting outside by the pool with a good book and some coffee until the conference ended and we could visit the beach seemed like a good idea. I’d read all my books, and since I’m not yet Kindle-fied I headed across the street to Target – the only option within walking distance – to see what they had book-wise. Being a naïve tourist I was surprised that they opened at 8am, but it was convenient. The only paperback they had that looked interesting to me was a thumbed copy of David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed By Flames. I had heard a lot of good things about Mr. Sedaris’ writing, but I had never gotten around to reading any. Now was a good time.

It turned out that it was as good as the hype: hysterically funny, biting, insightful, sympathetic, endlessly fascinating – all true. At several points I had to stifle myself so as not to laugh out loud and make my pool-side neighbours think I was crazy. But, eventually, real life caught up with reading and I only just finished it a week or so ago.

I only mention this because I bought and read Playing with Trains by Sam Posey while still hung-over from Mr. Sedaris’ book. I came across Mr. Posey’s book also quite by accident. Searches in Amazon for hobby how-to books dug it up. I’d never seen a memoir built around a person’s model railroading hobby, so I thought I’d try it.

First, it’s something of a celebrity memoir. Mr. Posey was a racecar driver and ABC sportscaster, so his approach to model railroading definitely reflects this position in society. Throughout the narrative about the construction of his model railroad he frequently hires professionals to help with framing, wiring, model building, and many of the construction tasks associated with model railroad building. But, nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, and very insightful into how some of those massive layouts that are featured in the model railroading press are actually built. It’s also a personal narrative, and I enjoyed reading his thoughts on how model railroading was a theme that ran through his life and reflected on its meaning and impact.

Also, being a celebrity was no doubt helpful in gaining insider access to the luminaries I’ve read about in the model railroading press. Learning about the people and dynamics behind the pages I’ve seen on the newsstand was probably the most interesting aspect of the book for me.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, but when I got to the end I wondered how Mr. Sedaris might write about an encounter with the world of model railroading.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Art Park and the quirks of grass mat installation

Back in the summer I bought a Busch grass mat at George’s Trains. I was browsing and saw a big stack of them in a box and thought I’d buy one just to see if I might have some idea for using it. It’s a little bigger than a 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper; has a ‘grassy’ surface – well, if grassy means a stubbly surface like you’d have after getting a flattop at the barber - on one side, and a papery surface on the other.

It languished in my supplies box for awhile. When I started working on Art Park it seemed like the best material for making a smooth, uniform lawn, which is what I wanted for this scene. Grass mats are a little hokey looking, but for the lawns in a scene that is somewhat fanciful to begin with, it seemed like a good way to quickly build the look I wanted.

I cut the various pieces for the grounds by laying out the patterns on the back of the mat and then sliced them out with a knife and straight-edge. Gluing them down was a little tricky. I got a little frustrated because the glues I had on hand either wouldn’t bond properly, or required a long curing time that necessitated holding down the mat pieces with weights. I finally resorted to overkill and used thick super-glue to do the job. It easily holds down the mat to the form-core base and sets up quickly. The downside is that you need to place the mat on the scenery base correctly the first time because the glue sets up quickly and has only a very narrow window for making adjustments. But, once you’ve practiced a little, you’ll get nice looking results very quickly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Art Park on Idlewild Boulevard - Beginnings

I finally stumbled upon a place and arrangement for the SRSv2 and L’il Overlook buildings: I thought I’d organize them into a public art park on the southern end of the city. Basically, it’s an area that was once a thriving light industrial area, but after going through a prolonged state of neglect where many of the businesses closed down, the old derelict buildings were demolished and it was revived into a tourist area. An early part of the revival was the installation of sidewalks so visitors could walk down from the city, but it’s now moving on to landscaping, structure installation and road building. It’s beneficial to have a level-crossing nearby to bring in tourists – hopefully, it’ll have a station platform to service the park.

There is still some industry nearby. Just to the north, on the other side of the tracks, is the undeveloped location for the Barrel and Marble Works – maybe Cedar Heights Station will find a place here too. The Barrel and Marble Works is a repurposed building: it once housed a mill, but instead of demolition, it has been renovated a bit and leased out to smaller businesses. Further north and east is the Moore industrial park where the still thriving Bunn’s Feed and Seed, and Jones Chemical Company are located. One can see the progression from modern to legacy land use and how the railway fit in.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Thinking about how the businesses might have evolved helps me to develop the railroad even though it’s just a retro-modern fiction in HO-scale. I’ll try and keep posting photos as the scene develops - this one is just the beginning to set the stage.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cedar Heights Station

I’m interested in models that one can see into or through. Scarboro Square Station was one project where I tried out this idea. It doesn’t have any glass components, but you can look through it from many angles. Cedar Heights Station is a simple project where I wanted to use a glass wall as the dominant element.

The concrete base is built from several pieces of 0.080 inch styrene glued up into a single block as was done with the loading dock at the Jones Chemical Company. When solid, the outer surfaces were coated with putty and sanded when dry to help mask the styrene edges.

The glass wall is cut from a piece of thin clear plastic - I seemed to have lost the specification sheet. It’s edged with 1/16 inch L-shaped styrene pieces that were painted with Tester’s Model Master steel paint prior to gluing to the wall with thick superglue. That job was a nail-biter. I had to be extra careful not to get any glue on areas of glass that could be seen. This may not be the best way to attach these things and I need to look into better methods.

The roof is corrugated Evergreen styrene sheet laminated to a piece of 0.010 inch styrene to give the roof a little more depth and structure.

When I glued-up the various pieces I positioned and held all of them by hand while they dried. I should have used some clamps and templates because things got a little crooked. I pulled things apart a bit and did some re-gluing to square things up, but it only partially fixed the problems. A little strategic camouflaging with figures and scene details helped make things look a little more aligned and righteous.

I’m having a bit of a problem deciding where to place the signboard. I’ll post an update when I’ve made up my mind.

{A rather ominous picture (!) now that I look at it more closely}

Although I like the look of this building, Cedar Heights Station wouldn’t stand-up in the real world; way too flimsy and unbalanced for Ontario, and maybe anywhere else. But, that’s one of the good things about model building, you can build whatever you want.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Barrel & Marble Works: An E.L. Moore style building in HO

When Debra and I were traveling through Prince Edward County in the summer we made a stop at the Armstrong Glassworks in Wellington. We’d never been there before, and I was surprised to see a relatively large old mill complex standing directly behind the shop. While Debra did some browsing, I did some photographing.

It’s visually quite an interesting complex, and it immediately struck me as something that might have sprung from the pages of an old E.L. Moore building article. It looks like it was originally some sort of mill – we were making a quick stop and I didn’t have time to hunt someone down to ask questions and take photos at the same time – that now houses businesses for making new household objects, like chairs, from barrels, a marble works and a recycling facility.

I’ve always wanted to do an original building in an E.L. Moore style, and this one struck me as the perfect candidate.

For purposes of getting started, you can think of this complex as having two major parts: the barrel and marble works on the right, and the recyclery on the left. The barrel works is that 2 or 3 storey tall structure in the centre, and the marble works is to the right of it in the smaller, appended annex.

So, here is a photo walk-around of the first part.

And here is a photo walk-around of the recyclery on the left.

One could take a variety of approaches when turning this into an HO-scale building for a model railroad. It could be ‘restored’ to its original use for railroads set in an earlier time-period. Or, one could just chose to model the centre section since it’s very distinctive on its own. I chose to model it in its present-day, 2010 form, but selectively shrunk it to fit on a smallish model railroad, and with the back wall remodeled a little to accommodate a simple rail siding. I’ll probably make other changes as I proceed, but those seem like a good starting place.

I started by making a rough sketch of what I thought the building looked like from the photos, with various dimensions downsized. You could use a drawing tool like Sketch-Up, but I’m happy with pencil-and-paper. At this stage, I’m just trying to understand how all the major parts will fit together, and the tactile immediacy of a pencil seems to help me.

Next, I decided to draw a little more accurately the outlines of the walls for the first part of the structure. I just used an HO-scale rule, a square and a pencil for this task. In sizing the complex, I have assumed that the plans must fit on 2 or 3, 8 ½ x 11 pages, in HO-scale, as if it were an old-school E.L. Moore article. At this stage I’m not concerned about all the details you’d find on finished plans, I’m just trying to work out the major dimensions and get it to look pleasing.

For windows and doors, I’m again going to forego using the classic techniques that Mr. Moore applied and use plastic moldings. I bought a window and door selection from Tichy Train Group last year, and I laid out some on the plans to see what might fit. Once I’ve cut out the walls, I’ll draw in and cut out the window and door openings directly in the wall material. At present I’m just checking rough fit, and to see if I’ve got suitable parts for this project.

I set the scaled drawing aside for awhile. Something wasn’t quite right. I think I drew the front and back walls of the marble works a little too short. I think it should be about the same length as the barrel works: 24 feet, instead of the 20 on the drawing. I’ll also make the recyclery 24 feet long so that everything looks balanced. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like in plastic.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

This rock is mine

Trees can get very territorial about their rocks.

Monday, September 6, 2010


It's not here.
Or here.

Turns out I've lost the E.L.Moore V.W pickup I used in some of the red shed photos I took last week. I've looked everywhere and haven't found it. I'll need to be more careful when taking photos outside. Well, it's a good excuse for building another one.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Red shed

I've been taking some outdoor pictures and posting them at my other blog, retroDynamics. Subjects in those photos are in 1/24 scale and I thought I try it with some HO-scale buildings.

Since I'm using a natural environment as the stage, I thought a backwoods type of building would be most appropriate. The Shack #2 and the V.W truck seemed good picks for this project.

I also used some HO-scale sheep and a figure.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bruegel-Bosch Bus Bonanza

Debra and I dropped by the Art Gallery of Hamilton a week ago to see Kim Adams’ Bruegel-Bosch Bus on our way to Niagara Falls - ok, well, at my insistence I got Debra to agree that we could drop by and she was a good sport and did, and, once there, she thought the diversion was as interesting as I did.

The AGH doesn’t allow photos, so I don’t have any to post, but you can get a sense of the work here at their website. Photos don’t do the work justice - you have to see it to begin to understand it. Turns out they sell three photo postcards of it in the gift-shop, I picked some up. They make nice souvenirs.

The Bruegel-Bosch Bus is a very curious thing to say the least, and I’m not certain the many short and cursory art essays I’ve read online about it really know what to make of it. No doubt they mean something to art insiders who know the language, but I found them a little difficult. No doubt it’s me that needs educating.

But, before I go on, I should say that it’s a great thing to see, and if you’re a model builder interested in even the slightest way of pushing what can be expressed in this media, you need to see this work. And if you do go to see it, don’t be in a rush because there is lots to see and a drive-by viewing won’t be long enough.

The AGH has done a great job displaying the work. It’s placed in its own, huge, second-floor white room with a high ceiling, and a huge, street-facing window that lets in lots of natural light. There’s plenty of space to walk around and view the work from every angle you can think of. The AGH also should be commended for not encircling it with a velvet rope to separate it from viewers. Yes, there is a guard to watch your every move, but that’s a small annoyance and he was very friendly when we had questions.

When it comes to art I never really know what to think. Sometimes I wonder if the artist is pulling my leg to see what he can get paid for. All I know is whether I find what I’m looking to be interesting to me. That’s where I start. I just try to look at things, see if they’re interesting and go from there. Yeah, I do try to read about the things I want to look at, but I don’t think that these write-ups have much sway over me if the thing itself isn’t interesting. It’s the thing, not the back-story that’s important. So, yeah, I see the irony here, I’m writing a back-story, so ignore as necessary, but, as I’ve mentioned, Bruegel-Bosch Bus is worth seeing for yourself.

I don’t know what Mr. Adams was thinking while building this thing. Maybe he started working on it in his back-yard because it seemed like an interesting thing to build and eventually his wife told him to move it somewhere else. And maybe he started to think, man, this thing is gonna be big and expensive; I need to find somebody with some deep pockets to pay for the parts and give it a place to live. Maybe. Maybe one day I’ll find out.

When we first entered the display space Debra immediately told me to abandon all thoughts of building one for myself in our basement. Unfortunately, mind-reading is one of her strong suits. The first thing I did was walk around and identify all the kits and things in the Bruegel-Bosch Bus that I’ve ever built with, or seen in stores or magazines, and marveled at the way Mr. Adams used them. Once that was out of my system I could then look more closely at all the scenes and the overall organization. I suspect I didn’t get a good look at them all, because there is a lot to see.

An old VW bus / flatbed is the core of the piece - it looks a lot like the E.L. Moore bus, but far more decrepit. On the flatbed is a vast heavy industrial area modeled (all in HO scale kits and components) to be in the same state of decrepitude as the bus (interesting, given that this piece is located in Hamilton: Ontario’s steel town). As you move out towards the sides and back of the bus, the scenes and structures become more urban, but the overall broken down, post-apocalyptic feel to things remains - there’s volcanoes spewing psychedelic magma, piles of vehicles strewn here and there, giant apes and monsters scaling skyscrapers, trains that go nowhere, and all kinds of other wild craziness going on. However, as you move forward towards the cab, the HO-scale scenes die out and things shift to vignettes built around pop culture figures in various scales - nothing cute here, almost a black-humoured glimpse into the bowels of some sort of late 20th century media hell. The centerpiece is a full-size replica of a skeleton in the driver’s seat piloting the whole damned bus to God knows where, but it probably isn’t good. What’s the message; beats me, maybe it’s simply a bleak, space-time-warped mash-up of The Outer Limits meets Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Laugh-In in the Twilight Zone.

But, it’s all in good fun. Although, Debra was right, I wouldn’t want to live with it in our house, just visit it when the mood strikes.

Another question that doesn’t get asked is does this work mean anything to model building? I think, once again, maybe we’re not talking about model building here at all. Classically, most model building is concerned with making accurate replicas of actual things. Mr. Adams is using the materials of plastic model building, along with other things, to express ideas - although it’s a bit hidden to me even though the imagery is focused in one direction - instead of focusing on creating replicas. There is lots of model building going on here, but it is done so as a means to other ends. Mr. Adams isn’t pushing the boundaries of model building techniques for capturing detail at small scales, but is pushing the boundaries of what can be expressed in the current state of the medium.

The sign on the display space wall says that Mr. Adams does indeed visit his creation from time-to-time, and while there continues adding to it. It’s a work in progress. The gallery needs some photos, or maybe an ancillary video installation to show how it has evolved over time. And maybe explain how they got it into the gallery in the first place. No one there could explain that. Putting some information up about some of the more prosaic and less arty aspects on how this piece came about and was built would be interesting too.

Well, my time is up. Enjoy. Go see for yourself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


There seems to be lots more Monarch butterflies around this summer than I've seen in a long time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Now boarding at Scarboro Square Station

I finally finished the commuter station at Scarboro Square. I must admit it’s a rather minimalist structure, but even with all its design flaws, I like it.

One thing I forgot to mention in the first post was that there is a styrene tube in the roof that all the panels rest against to give the structure some strength. You can see the tube fairly clearly in the end views.

The benches and figures are Woodland Scenics items, and the trash bins, bike-rack, and pay-phone are from a set of city details from Walthers.

The cars are - I think - all items from Model Power. They produce some fairly modern cars that aren’t too expensive, so I’ve bought a few from them. But, I’ve learned recently that ‘modern’ is a relative term. One 9-year-old visitor asked why I had so many old cars - ones from the 80’s that is - and didn’t have many new ones. I hastily pointed out that I did have a Porsche Cayenne and a Mecedes SUV. That didn’t seem to excuse the affront of the Gremlins, Pacers, Tempos and the 1980s Hondas. Yikes! My frame-of-reference is that cars prior to around 1975 are too old for the ‘retro-future’ of the 30 Square Line, but apparently my biases seriously dated me. I went out and bought a 2006 Audi from Model Power to help regain my with-it status, but no doubt, it’ll be seen for the lame attempt at relevance that it is :-)

Whining aside, the Model Power cars are good value, but they need a little work to help them appear a bit more realistic. They are shipped in little clear plastic boxes and have a mounting moulding in their chassis to keep the model secure in the box during shipping and handling. This unsightly moulding is usually visible from a ‘street view’ of the vehicle. So, the first thing to do is grind it off with a Dremel tool. I don’t bother filling the resulting hole in the chassis since it can’t be seen once the car’s in place on the layout.

Next, you’ll notice that on many of these vehicles the side mirrors have mirrors that are the same colour as the body and need to be painted a silverly colour. After that, a wash of thinned flat-black paint over the wheels and grills helps to define the shadows on the recesses and tone down the flashy chrome.

I like to add license plates for a little extra realism. Penitentiary Products produces some excellent ones for Ontario - as well as a number of Ontario highway signs. Once they are in place I also tone them down with a wash of flat-black - but, be careful because it’s easy to completely obliterate the plate with too much wash.

I need to add a few more details, but that’ll wait until the station is installed in Scarboro Square and some of the gaps in the landscaping are worked up.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scarboro Square Station - Basic structure

I've had the book XS: Big Ideas, Small Buildings by Phyllis Richardson on my shelf for a long time and it's a favourite for browsing. Back in November I latched onto this train station, called 'curving linear', shown on pages 98 to 101 - designed by Shuhei Endo Architect Institute, made from corrugated metal sheets.

I've got a lot of leftover curved panels from the S/R/Sv2 project, and I had recently bought some Campbell HO scale corrugated metal sheets, so I thought I had some parts that I could use to build a structure inspired by curving linear for Scarboro Square.

I decided not to replicate the length and subtle curving of curving linear and go with something more prosaic - it is Ontario after all :) - and fitting with the parts I had on hand. The platform and parking lot are sized to fit the open space in Scarboro Square, and allow for one of my double-decker GO passenger cars to pull into the station. Also, the height of the station is set so that the roof is on the same level as the top of one of those GO passenger cars.

I'm about mid-way through construction and so far itís been a very pleasant build. I need to add detailing and washes to the structure, platform and parking lot to bring it to life.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Scarboro Square

It's interesting, when I first located the place for the urban area on the layout I had in mind some scene with a number of 30s style buildings, a gas station and a car-wash. But, I guess it never grabbed my imagination enough to see through its construction. Later I started kitbashing these retro-future buildings and, well, they seemed more interesting to build a city around, albeit one that never existed and never could or will exist. Is it sci-fi, retro, fantasy, or just plain wrong for a model railroad that isn't a model railroad - can't say that I know, but it seems interesting and I'm curious to see where it goes.

The Square is built on a piece of 1/4-inch acrylic cut to fit the opening defined by the roads and track roadbed. I used acrylic because of its dimensional stability. The railroad is in the basement and it's subject to variations in humidity, so the acrylic provides a solid base that will resist those fluctuations. The part of the train-table where the base will be placed had some circular holes drilled in it so the sheet can easily be removed pushing up through the holes. I may add some smaller ones later to accommodate lighting.

Using this way to build the town it is possible to have several towns that could fit in the same place as long as they had the same shape base. This makes for lots of photo possibilities for new ideas.

I've started with the Deroalow, Amtronic ranch and Art Deco Chapters as the cornerstones of the Square. They're attached with small drops of superglue to hold their bases to the acrylic. I figured if the drops were small enough, they'd be securely held in place, but could be sliced off at some later time if I wanted to change things up. Well, it turns out I made a mistake in the placement of the Deoralow and had to test my theory and slice it off. It wasn't too hard, but I did damage one corner of its base in the process - nothing that can't be cleaned up when I do some more scenicing.

The remaining big empty space is going to be filled with a station for picking up passengers.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shack #2

A few weeks ago Mike Hamer graciously invited me to visit his Boston & Maine railroad. It's as spectacular as the photos at his blog suggest.

The visit inspired me to try my hand at building a laser-cut structure kit. For a first project I thought I'd try something straightforward, and the Bar Mills Shack Pack [changed from Blair Mills on 30 June - thanks Mike!] I bought at George's Trains in Toronto was just the ticket. Shack #2 in this three shack pack looked like it would fit in the E.L. Moore industrial park - it'll be part of a windmill park sub-scene - so I picked it as the first project.

I won't give a step-by-step summary here since the kit instructions are very comprehensive. Basically, the only modification I made was to dry brush the colour coat with Tamiya Hull Red, and to leave off the side extension since I didn't think it would fit in with the windmill park I have in mind.

It went together very quickly and I'm satisfied with the result. It was a fun little project that I highly recommend to anyone looking for an easy way to try a laser-cut build. It was almost too easy, and at times I felt like I was cheating on my first love, old-school scratchbuilding :-)